COOP Champions

Yumi Nabeshima, ILO Tokyo

COOP Champions features ILO colleagues from around the world working on cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises. It highlights their contributions, and shares highlights of their experiences, current work, and future aspirations.

Article | 26 September 2017
Ms Yumi Nabeshima holds Master's Degree in Human Resource Development from the University of Manchester
Yumi Nabeshima joined the ILO Office for Japan (ILO-Tokyo) in December 2003. Being a liaison office in an industrialised country, ILO-Tokyo’s main functions are advocacy, public relations, and resource mobilisation; Yumi has devoted herself in promoting ILO development cooperation and donor relations in Japan, which includes partnership building with various key players such as Japanese cooperatives.

In 2007 Yumi started to get involved in the Cooperative Facility for Africa (COOPAfrica) Programme in the preparation for the Tokyo International Conference on African Development IV (TICAD IV) and undertook a couple of missions to Africa. At that time, the COOPAfrica Programme was just launched in Dar es Salaam covering Eastern and Southern African countries. In December 2007 Yumi coordinated a meeting with Mr Jürgen Schwettmann, who was Director of ILO Dar es Salaam then and ILO COOP Chief prior to that, to discuss with the Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union (JCCU) as part of a mission to Japan in order to seek support for COOPAfrica activities. Yumi recalls that this first meeting with JCCU provided a chance for her to gain a better appreciation of the indispensable roles played by cooperative enterprises in the world of work and development cooperation.

Since then Yumi has played a pivotal role in coordinating and building up ILO’s collaboration efforts with the Japanese cooperative movement, especially with JCCU, and explored possibilities to help build African cooperatives’ capacities toward a “renaissance” of the cooperative movement in Africa.

In 2010, the painstaking efforts over the years crystalized into a joint study tour programme by ILO and JCCU to assist the African cooperative movement to strengthen its capacity by learning from the good lessons/challenges learnt by the Japanese cooperatives. Through this joint initiative, selected African cooperative leaders learn about the Japanese cooperative system and its strongly membership-based approach through lectures and study visits in Tokyo and its vicinities. The ultimate objective is to bring about attitude change and paradigm shift to those study tour participants. From 2010 to 2017, eight study tours have been organized with 34 senior cooperative leaders and practitioners from 12 African countries, namely, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Lesotho, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

In 2011, Yumi also coordinated an ILO research mission on Rokin labour banks, a cooperative bank supported by trade unions and cooperatives in Japan, and helped ILO Social Finance Unit in developing a working paper on Rokin Banks.

Meanwhile the joint study tour programme facilitated further the ILO/JCCU relationship through JCCU visits to ILO headquarters/project offices in the field and more frequent exchange of the information between the two like-minded organizations This exchange brought about the launch of the ILO/JCCU technical cooperation project on cooperative research and communication through human resource transfer in 2014, which has entered its 2nd phase this year.

“Come to think of it, I have been a believer of cooperatives since I was little. I grew up with cooperatives because my mother was an active member of a local consumers’ cooperative, and of course I have become a co-operator myself when I entered university”, Yumi said with a big smile.

She vividly remembers her childhood memories where young coop staff drivers were delivering dozens of fresh eggs and milk with trucks to her home. Her mother would separate such deliveries for her group members based on their orders. In 1970-80s, many Japanese housewives particularly in urban areas joined consumers’ cooperatives in order get safe food supplies with no/minimum additives and preservatives, and Yumi’s mother was one of such concerned parents. So, for the little Yumi, cooperatives meant “good people who brought safe food to her family and neighbours”.

With this strong con in cooperatives, Yumi believes they will play a significant role in achieving the SDGs for both the Global South and the North as the cooperative principles are in alignment with what the SDGs aim for: “leaving no one behind”. In the Japanese context, she expects cooperatives to address pressing social issues such as 1) the advent of super aging societies with low birthdates by providing care services for the elderly and others, and 2) rapid technological changes by creating platform cooperatives so that people working on web-based marketplaces can gain collective voice and better protection. In order to do so, Yumi thinks cooperatives probably need to engage more actively in advocacy and policy discussions.

The ILO’s Centenary in 2019 is just around the corner, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the ILO-JCCU joint study tour programme for African cooperative leaders. It is Yumi’s dream that the ILO, the Japanese cooperative movement, ICA Africa and African cooperative leaders, who participated the Programme, will jointly formulate a substantive project which can help support Africa cooperatives to flourish and achieve quality growth which they well deserve. To realise this dream, Yumi will further strengthen her support to ILO COOP Unit and the Japanese cooperative movement in facilitating dialogue between African and Japanese co-operators and development partners.